Being vegetarian and vegan are not the same. But what’s the difference?

Susan S. Johnson

The world is now shifting to a more plant-based diet! The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed the way people think about plant-based eating, and its growing role in protecting personal and planetary health. For those practicing a plant-based diet, the difference between being vegetarian and vegan might be obvious. For others, it can be confusing, we think.

For instance, vegan and vegetarian diets avoid all animal by-products. But how are being vegan and vegetarian different from each other? 

To understand this better, we spoke to Dr Priya Palan, dietitian, Zen Multispeciality Hospital, who shared with HealthShots that vegan and vegetarian diets are both extremely popular nowadays. There are many celebrities who have been following a vegan diet. But being vegan is not the same as being a vegetarian.

Here’s the difference between being vegan and vegetarian

If you follow a vegan diet, you will have to exclude all animal products (that are meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, and honey). Being vegan is more of a lifestyle. 

When it comes to a vegetarian diet, you are required to exclude meat, poultry, fish, egg, and seafood. However, many vegetarians do eat eggs, honey, as well as dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. 

“Vegetarianism is not so strict, when compared to a vegan diet. It is necessary to consult an expert before you follow any type of diet, as it may increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies, ” advises Dr Palan. 



a bowl of food on a plate: world vegetarian day 2021


© Provided by Healthshots
world vegetarian day 2021

Although many vegetarians consume animal-based products, there are some types of vegetarians you must get acquainted with: 

Types of vegetarian diets, according to Dr Palan
  1. Ovo-vegetarian: Avoid meat, fish, or dairy products but tend to have eggs.
  2. Lacto-vegetarian: One may give up on all types of meat, fish, or eggs but eat dairy products.
  3. Pescatarian: May avoid meat, poultry, eggs but will eat fish and other types of seafood.  It is also called a flexitarian diet. 
  4. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Those who opt for it don’t eat meat and fish, but eat dairy products and eggs.

Also, read: Just started your journey of veganism? Keep these 3 nutritional tips in mind

Types of vegan diets
  1. Dietary vegans: These are the ones who give up on animal products in their diet, but use them in clothing and cosmetics.
  2. Low-fat, raw-food vegans: They limit high-fat foods like nuts, avocados, and coconuts, and stick to mainly fruits.
  3. Junk-food vegans: Their diet is based on processed vegan food, like vegan fries, frozen dinners, and also desserts.
  4. Whole-food vegans: Their diet is based on a wide variety of whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds
  5. Raw-food vegans: Their diet is based on only raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.



a tray of food on a plate: Indian thali


© Provided by Healthshots
Indian thali

Both diets offer almost similar health benefits and generally encourage people to eat more antioxidants-rich and nutrient-dense whole food. In fact, a study published by the online journal BMJ Nutrition – Prevention & Health revealed that a plant-based diet could potentially reduce the risk of Covid-19.

Is the vegetarian diet superior to the vegan diet, or vice versa?

Dr Palan says, “Before choosing any kind of diet, it is important to know about various sources of nutrients, in order to ensure that one meets the daily dietary requirements. Both diets can be considered as healthy eating choices, but if not planned well, could lead to nutrient deficiencies.”

Also, read: Vegans, you can get your daily dose of protein with these 5 foods

That means it is very important to keep an eye on the intake of healthy nutrients in your daily diet, in order to keep mental and physical health on track. 

Remember, following a plant-based diet does not guarantee good health if it is loaded with processed “junk” and sugary foods, says Dr Palan. 

The health benefits of being vegan and vegetarian.

Over time, studies have shown that both vegan and vegetarian diets have lower rates of chronic diseases. One must ensure to get enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12 in the daily diet. Here, Dr Palan lists down some important benefits of being vegan and vegetarian. 

1. Weight loss: These diets naturally control the number of calories you eat, while the high dietary fibre intake can make one feel satiated for longer. 



a hand holding a baby: world vegetarian day 2021


© Provided by Healthshots
world vegetarian day 2021

2. Keeps heart diseases at bay: These diets are rich in fibre, and low in trans and saturated fats, and lower the risk of heart diseases and stroke.

3. Improves kidney health: Healthful plant-based protein may reduce the risk of kidney diseases.

4. Manages pain due to arthritis: Antioxidant-rich and nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, thereby helping to relieve joint pain. 

5. Prevents type 2 diabetes: These diets are low in saturated fats and high in fibre, thereby helping to lower cholesterol, and reduce the chances of type 2 diabetes.

6. Reduces inflammation: Consumption of natural plant-based foods and avoidance of processed foods lowers inflammation in the body.

It is important to be physically active and follow a balanced diet by getting the right amount of nutrients and supplementing it appropriately.

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